The latest EP, Awakenings, by Sacramento hip-hop duo DLRN, performing January 19 at Pagoda Lounge, takes a big step away from the norm found on most hip-hop records, creating a sound that is almost unclassifiable. It mixes 80s electronic, experimental soundscapes, guest soul singers and straightforward, emotional rhymes—all backed by barebones old-school hip-hop beats.
“It’s evident to the audience that it’s a little more than hip-hop,” emcee Sean La Marr says.
DLRN takes a unique approach to shows by not trying to generate audience participation—avoiding the typical “hey, ho” call and response—and often just performing and hoping people will connect to the music.
“It’s a different experience for everyone involved, for us included,” La Marr says. “There’s not a lot of call and response. It’s not necessarily about getting the crowd as hyped, say, as it was in my early days doing a lot of boom bap and soul samples. So sometimes it’s hard to understand, like how the crowd is supposed to get involved because the music is different.”
Along with producer Jon Reyes, the duo started in 2009, but was taking most of its influences from underground hip-hop artists like Little Brother, mixing light spacious beats with ’70s soul samples. They released two EPs (The Bridge and Delorean) with this sound but looked for ways to push the envelope to separate themselves from the numerous other rappers with the same style.
“That’s when we started focusing on adding darker notes, and making it more electronic, just making it more ’80s influenced,” La Marr says.
Along with these elements, they applied a free-for-all policy for how far out the instruments and textures could be while also keeping the basic drum beat simple, which plays a critical role in keeping the music grounded in hip-hop.
“Lyrics or cadences don’t necessarily sound great over different types of beats,” La Marr says. “I think that’s why we kept the core of it hip-hop and then really focus on the emotion and different soundscapes that other instruments can bring. It’s still is rooted in basic hip-hop principles.”
Sat, 9:30pm, $5